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26th Mar, 2020

Bukola Odofin
Bukola Odofin
Job Title
HR Area Director and Diversity Champion

Diversity has become a crucial part of businesses’ policies. Organisations are finally beginning to recognise that having a diverse range of employees will help improve performance and productivity.

However, when mentioning ‘diversity’, what comes to mind is gender or racial diversity. While diversity along these lines is hugely important, there is another type which can have a big impact on your organisation ­– neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is the term given to how the brain works and interprets information. People who are neurodivergent think in different ways, with the term covering classifications like ADHD, dyslexia and autism. It is estimated that 15% of the UK’s population is neurodivergent.

With many neurodivergent people struggling to find employment, despite often being highly qualified, it is little wonder that businesses are beginning to realise the benefits of adapting their practices to incorporate neurodivergent employees into their teams.

Increasing neurodiversity will help your organisation

Diversity of thought helps to improve business outcomes. Companies are crying out for people who think differently. This highlights the need for businesses to make a conscious effort to hire neurodivergent people – who are often excellent problem solvers and find it far easier to think laterally than the ‘neurotypical’.

Consider that neurodivergent business leaders include the likes of Richard Branson, Lord Sugar and Steve Jobs. Richard Branson partly credits dyslexia for his business success, stating: “It helped me think big, but keep our messages simple”.

This demonstrates the potential of neurodivergent employees. Large companies who have made it a priority to increase their neurodiversity, such as SAP and Microsoft, have reported higher productivity, better quality of work, innovation boosts and broad increases in employee engagement.

But, if you expect a neurodivergent employee to come into an organisation and adapt to existing workplace policies and social cues, then you’re not going to make best use of their talent.

Adapting your recruitment to help neurodivergent candidates

At present, workers are often expected to operate in a homogenous way based on ‘neurotypical’ thought processes. This derives from antiquated perceptions that neurodivergent employees are ‘abnormal’ and should conform to the ‘normal’ way of doing things. As well as being insulting, the fact is that neurodivergent people simply think differently.

The first challenge businesses face is identifying talented neurodivergent people in the recruitment process. Businesses still by and large look for generalists, with lots of different hard and soft skills. This means that employers tend to focus on what neurodivergent people struggle to do, rather than what they do well.

This has made it difficult for neurodivergent candidates to find employment. For example, the National Autism Society says that only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment.

Hiring managers must allow candidates to state whether they require ’reasonable adjustments’ in the recruitment process. For neurodivergent candidates, this can entail a change to an interview structure, providing interview questions in advance, or even using a different format of assessment. Conventional interviews are principally a test of recall and social competence, which can put some neurodivergent people at a disadvantage.

Adjusting your workplace to help neurodivergent employees

Workplaces can be a challenging environment for neurodivergent employees, so HR professionals must be prepared to take actions to make sure they can work to the best of their ability.

These ‘reasonable adjustments’ often cost absolutely nothing for employers, and often will benefit all employees, not just neurodivergent workers. However, there are challenges which affect neurodivergent employees more acutely.

Many people with neurological differences find traditional open plan offices very challenging to work in. Neurodivergent workers often struggle with sensory overload, so a loud or very bright office can harm their productivity. However, if managers and HR teams are aware of these challenges, then simple solutions - like letting an employee move to quieter spot - can have hugely positive effects.

Human resources professionals have a role to play in improving employee awareness about neurodiversity. Helping workplaces to become more inclusive for neurodivergent members of staff will help to reduce the need for reasonable adjustments and make them feel like they belong, improving their work.

Those organisations who look at neurodiversity as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, will secure hugely talented, dedicated employees. As more businesses report increased success through harnessing the skills of neurodivergent workers, the demand for people who think differently will only increase.

Seeking talented HR professionals who can help implement a diversity strategy? Or looking for your next role in human resources? Contact your local Reed office.